By Missoula Current

U.S. Forest Service crews are starting to thin trees around the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area’s main trailhead this week, and will continue through the summer.

This is the second year of implementation for the 13,000-acre Marshall Woods project, which includes vegetation management (using small, non-commercial tree cutting), road maintenance and noxious weed treatments in portions of Marshall Creek, Woods Gulch and the Lower Rattlesnake drainage immediately northwest of Missoula.

The project is intended to reduce the wildfire danger in an area directly north of the city of Missoula and the heavily populated Rattlesnake Valley. The area is identified as having the second greatest risk of wildfire in the Missoula area's wildfire protection plan.

A total of 3,959 acres will eventually be thinned. This year’s work will include thinning, burning and spraying for weeds.

Pile burning of last year’s thinning work is heavily dependent on weather and air quality dispersion forecasts, according to the Missoula Ranger District.

Although fall is typically the predominant pile-burning season, burning will be conducted if conditions allow and objectives can be met this spring.

This year’s cutting will begin at the main trailhead into the area. That work will include thinning and hand piling in the coming weeks.

As early as July 15, contracted thinning will occur in four areas. Trails are not planned for closure, but visitors are likely to see work activity if they travel on the main Rattlesnake Road 99/Trail 515 and in the Woods Gulch area.

Forest System Road 2122 (in Marshall Canyon) will be closed for road maintenance to all traffic during weekdays for a couple of weeks this spring, depending on weather conditions.

In addition, weed treatment work will be occurring throughout the summer and fall.

Those recreating in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area are likely to see some vehicle traffic and increased activity in the RNRA as the thinning work begins, but no significant impacts to public recreation are anticipated.

A schedule of activities and planned dates of work will be available on the Lolo National Forest website at Marshall Woods Restoration Project.

For more information on the schedule of work activities, contact the Missoula Ranger District at (406) 329-3814.